DeWine: COVID-19 numbers optimistic but ‘battle’ not over


By Farnoush Amiri and Andrew Welsh-Huggins - Report for America/Associated Press



COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — While Ohio coronavirus cases continue to slowly decline, Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday he can’t predict when remaining health orders might be lifted.

The Republican governor outlined the state’s multi-pronged plan it’s using to fight COVID-19, armed with hundreds of thousands of vaccines flowing into Ohio and a continuous increase of mass sites to administer them. He also acknowledged concerns that the state’s vaccine supply could exceed the number of residents willing to receive doses.

But while DeWine and health officials are happy with the direction of the virus in Ohio, the governor made it clear the state is still a ways away from the end.

“We are frankly in a race and we don’t frankly know what the enemy is doing,” DeWine said in a briefing Thursday. “But we do know from talking to the scientists and epidemiologists that they believe the variants are spreading in Ohio.”

In order to address the increasing variants, the state is currently administering 400,000 first doses of the vaccine each week. That number will be increased to 500,000 per week around March 29, when the state expands eligibility to Ohioans 16 years and old, DeWine said.

The governor directly connected the decrease in virus numbers to the state’s massive effort to vaccinate. But with more supply coming in, DeWine and other state leaders are running into vaccine hesitancy among certain groups, including the elderly and young people. Ohio is planning to address that with a number of TV and ad campaigns aimed at those individuals and their specific concerns around the virus.

“We continue to see the numbers trending downward and that is great for everyone,” he said. “We are making progress. But the battle has to be fought every single day.”

On Friday, the state expanded eligibility to Ohioans who are 40 years and older.

While the number of coronavirus cases per capita in Ohio continues to fall, it is happening at a pace that could still take weeks to reach the level needed to end health orders in the state, according to state data.

Those orders will be lifted once the state hits the mark of 50 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people for two weeks, DeWine said March 4. Those orders would include the statewide mask order and limits on attendance at sporting events and indoor entertainment events.

Ohio saw 143.8 cases per 100,000 people as of Thursday, according to newly released state Health Department figures. The number has dropped from 731 cases on Dec. 3 to 445 cases on Feb. 3, and to 155 cases last week.

Nearly 2.5 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine in Ohio, or about 21% of the population, according to the Health Department. More than 1.4 million or about 12% of the population have completed vaccinations.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Ohio decreased over the past two weeks, going from 1,801 new cases per day on March 2 to 1,456 new cases per day on March 16, according to an Associated Press analysis of data provided by The COVID Research Project.

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Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

By Farnoush Amiri and Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Report for America/Associated Press